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Resume/CV Language


Disciplines > Job-finding > Resume / CV > Resume/CV Language

No personal pronouns | Clear and simple | Key words | Exceptions | See also


There is a particular style of language that is commonly used in resumes/CVs and which it is usually important to follow.

No personal pronouns

Avoid using 'I' and other personal pronouns, making it seem as if your resume/CV is being written by somebody else. This an odd convention as it is clear that you are writing it but you may be penalized for not following this. A simple rule for doing this is just to omit them where they would normally be used.

For example:

Incorrect: I managed a team of ten people to reduce our business costs.

Correct: Managed a team of ten people to reduce business costs.


Clear and simple

At first reading, most resume/CVs have around 20 seconds to stand out. Anything that is not immediately clear will be ignored.

Every word should count. Spend time reviewing and revising, including coming back to it across several days to see if you can prune it more. Give it to others also to check that anyone can read and understand it.

Jargon may be needed for technical jobs, for example in listing experience in software systems. Keep such words to appropriate sections only. Be very careful with jargon and avoid trying to impress with big words. Remember that the first person to filter out the majority of applications may not understand the jargon.

Be careful to ensure accurate grammar. Nothing puts a recruiter off faster than weak language ability.

Be consistent throughout the document, keeping a consistent style, including use of fonts, words and layout.

Key words

Using key words are important when the applications will first be filtered through an automatic system, but beware of over-doing these. Remember that the people reading your resume/CV will see endless 'key words' such as 'successful' and 'on time, on budget'.

Indicators of problem

Problem words show that you have taken on significant challenges. Be careful here to indicate the problem without blaming other people. If possible, indicate how big the problem is.

Examples of problem words:

Failure, challenge, inadequate, broken, complaints, inefficient, worsening, loss, significant, frequent, critical.

Indicators of process

Process words show how you got form problem to success. These help describe your skills and tell something of the detail that helps interviewers form questions. Avoid vague words like 'worked' if you can.

Examples of process words:

Analyse, research, remove, manage, team, innovate, design, develop, plan, project.

Indicators of success

Success words indicate to the reader that you completed a task. The harder the task, the more impressive this is.

Success indicator words include:

Succeed, complete, finish, on-time, deliver, win, certify, eliminate, deploy, sold.

Technical words

If you have particular skills in given technologies or methodologies, then these are critical to include as they are often used as search terms by recruiters.

Typical technical words (of which there are many) include:

C++, Python, PHP, Six Sigma, Lean, BPR, PRINCE2, MSP, MBTI, 16PF.

Qualifications and membership

Recruiters may be looking for specific qualification levels and subject. Well known universities may also be sought. Ability may be indicated by membership of professional bodies and institutes.

A few typical indicators include:

BA, M.Sc, MBA, first class, Harvard, Oxford, MCIM, FCQI, MCIPD.

Reflection words

A neat trick is to look at the job description and pull out words and phrases that you can reflect back to them in your application. Look for words that appear several times or seem to be critical indicators of skills needed, then change your resume/CV to include these. This may mean removing the 'key' words you use and apply those used by your prospective employer, for example changing 'sold' to 'met sales targets'.

Other key words

Other words may also be important to include, such as qualifications, names of blue-chip employers and key skills.


There are always exceptions to the rules given above thought you should consider carefully when you think it is appropriate.

Some examples where it may be appropriate to

  • Using informal language for creative jobs and where you need to show more personality.
  • Deep technical detail for deep technical jobs.


It is very easy to inflate your resume/CV to make it look more impressive than reality. Whilst this is normal and perhaps expected, there is always a question of where polishing turns into lying.

Remember that those reading your application will be sensitive to exaggeration and may not follow up when things appear too perfect. And even if you get to interview, an over-done resume/CV may be your undoing when challenged for more detail. The recruiter may well also follow up with former employers to discover the less exciting truth.

See also

Use of Language


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